Tag Archives: Assessment

Reflections of a Classroom Teacher

30 Aug

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Some kinds of assessment raise achievement, and some are time fillers. This week I am getting back to business and working my craft in the classroom. Recently I have been distracted by the many other projects that complete my day.

The assessments that researchers have found most effective at raising achievement are those that teachers make minute by minute and day by day in the classroom and then use almost immediately to adjust their lessons. For example, teachers who walk the aisles to check on what the class needs to work on next are gathering more helpful data than they would if they used the same time to help two or three individuals with specific problems.

I have been working on asking good questions. Open ended ones. Asking questions is another way to find out what students do and don’t know. A simple technique like an exit question (a question every student answers before leaving class) can help me know how many students have grasped a basic concept or skill and whether to reteach the concept the next day.

Asking every student to choose one of several answers is another way to make sure students are engaged throughout the lesson. Research shows that the more students think and talk in class, the more they learn. But questioning should not be scary, nor should the approach. I have had great success with online discussion groups. It has met the needs of all the learners.  If the student answers “I don’t know,” a good reply might be, “I know, but if you did know, what would you think?” The point is that no student should be able to “choose not to think.”

Classroom instruction matters most in boosting achievement, and improving questioning and feedback techniques will improve the effectiveness of teachers.

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Growing a Positive Mindset in Assessment

23 Aug

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This week I have been doing a great deal of planning around the 2019 academic year. Looking at student courses and special conditions. Confidence is the thing that will help students see possibility and hope It’s this intrinsic state of being that will ensure interventions lead to high achievement. It is important to establishing a positive mindset to develop confidence for students.

Framing intervention in terms of learning is vital. Verbally frame every intervention in terms of what students need to learn more about. Ensure learning targets and essential standards are written and posted on assessments. Convey to students in words and actions that the work they are doing is about learning, not just compliance or completing work. Every student should know what they are learning more about. Intervention should not be about just completing work; it needs to be about gaining skills.

The following has been a successful method for me to establish this.

1. Accurately interpret assessment evidence

Ensure that the assessment evidence that led to the intervention is thoroughly analyzed so that those facilitating or conducting the intervention with students understand the misconceptions leading to students needing this intervention. In the absence of interpreting the assessment evidence, students may get the wrong type of instructional intervention.

2.Teach and facilitate self-assessment

Ensure students are reflecting on their assessment evidence and are seeing that the intervention is helping them learn what they are strong in and also reveals what they get more time to work on. For students in the beginning stages of achieving this essential standard, they may need more support in making the connections between the assessment evidence and their learning. This must be built into the intervention process to ensure that students’ perceptions are framed around learning.

3.Use assessment evidence to check the intervention effect

Ensure that the assessment evidence used to determine the effectiveness of the intervention accurately gathers information on achievement (the essential standard) and student confidence (student perceptions). Check to see if students learned more during the intervention and also check to see if their confidence grew.

 

Talking About Your Practice

7 Jul

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The staff room is often the best PLD source you will get during the year. I see it every lunchtime. As teachers engage students in dialogue about their learning, the guiding principle must be looking at how student involvement in each teacher-created assessment reflects a bigger plan for involving students in their own assessment. The role of the classroom teacher is to help each student bridge the gap between where that student is and where that student needs to be. It is really important not to over assess. This requires specific assessment practices, such as differentiating instruction, re-teaching certain targets, or re-sorting students to allow for small-group work connected to teacher strengths.

For example, an analysis of the results of students on a common assessment may reveal that although some students struggled with certain concepts, Teacher A had great success with that concept with a class of students. Teacher A can then re-teach the key concept to the struggling students while the remaining teachers in the departmental or grade-level team moves forward with the other students.

It’s also clear that changes in teacher practice requires support from leadership. If Teacher A is going to be able to re-teach struggling students, for example, she requires a principal who supports flexibility in teacher and student timetables. School leaders can further support teachers’ effort to close the gap by providing common preparation time for teacher teams or subject-area specialists, ensuring that professional development is aligned with the goal of improving student success, and providing time at staff meetings for a focused look at results of recent assessments.

 

Observational Tools and Observation

24 Apr

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It was stimulating listening to those in ERO speak about how they approach a lesson observation. They emphasised the richness in conversations surrounding this. They emphasised the approach from the lens of students. They noted after a classroom observation, it is important to place the learning and reflection directly in the hands of the teacher. Therefore, strong questions can guide a conversation that empowers the teacher and supports the relationship between observer and the teacher being observed. These are some key ideas to consider:

  1. How do you engage in pre-learning, and what kinds of information do you find most useful to collect during this process? What do you do with the results?
  2. How did you engage in formative learning today? How will what you learned impact the instructional choices you make tomorrow?
  3. How were your learning processes and feedback connected today? Who gave the feedback? Did it provide the hoped-for results?
  4. How are you capturing and collecting evidence of learning? Are students part of this process? Why or why not?
  5. How did the learning experiences connect to standards? How did you explain this connection to your learners?
  6. How will you assess tomorrow?
  7. What did students do when they were done early today? To what degree were you ready for this possibility? Was your response purposeful?
  8. Which learners showed the most confidence today and why? Which were the least confident, and how do you address this?

Improving Pedagogy

21 Jun

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In my opinion the best way to improve pedagogy is to speak to the students who are in the classrooms. Recently our students provided the followed recommendations to us through the curriculum survey which I thought were worth sharing:

  • less teacher talk: which we are thinking about making this a class challenge: How can we give you the student more opportunities to just get on with it AND make sure you have the instructions you need?
  • More hands on: they just crave opportunities to make and create. Make tasks relevant.
  • Clarify what “progress” means: students don’t seem to understand the role of activating prior knowledge and that learning is evidenced by growth from that base line (this may mean we have to also vary the way we collect this prior knowledge)
  • Continue the learning assets (e.g. self managers): students understand and can articulate these as they give a framework they use to improve and set goals – maybe include these in the letters students write to their new 2015 teachers.
  • Maintain the excursions as they love them for the powerful information and shared experience they provide.
  • Keep connecting to the community: they enjoy learning from experts in the community. Again see the point regarding relevant learning and assessment tasks.

Writing Assessment Tasks

12 Jun

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Using the right questions creates powerful, sometimes multiple answers and discussions. Aristotle said that he asked questions in response to other people’s views, while Socrates focused on disciplined questioning to get to the truth of the matters.

Ultimately questions spark imagination, conjure emotions, and create more questions. The questions asked by a teacher or professor are sometimes more glaringly valuable than the information transferred to the students. Those questions spark a thought, which leads to a fiercely independent search for information.

If students are the ones gathering that information then they’re the ones learning it and student-driven learning cements lessons into the students’ mind making any lesson more powerful with this strategy. As I teach and write the next assessment task this week I have been thinking about the following questions. Note they need to be linked to our New Zealand Curriculum.

  • How might you show the differences and similarities?
  • What patterns might lead you to an alternative answer?
  • How many possibilities can you think of and why?
  • How does this relate daily occurrences?

Faith Formation or Religious Education/Studies

2 Nov

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“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Rom 10:15-17).

We teach in a time where Religious Studies is rigorously assessed by Achievement Standards recognised by NZQA. Religious Studies is an approved subject for University Entrance. Teachers of the subject are working on textbooks, resources and developing pedagogical ideas as in any other curriculum area.  Still we may ask ourselves what is the purpose of Religious Studies/Education in schools exactly? Is it religious education or is it faith formation?

At a secondary level in New Zealand the perception of this subject is highly topical. With its non-optional nature in Catholic schools, teachers there still face the continual justification of why we spent so much teaching time on Religious Studies/Education in the classroom.

I genuinely believe that teachers of Religious Studies/Education teachers in a Catholic school should be leading teaching practice, delivering the most engaging and relevant lessons to raise perception. My observations indicate Religious Education/Studies practitioners are as good as any in any curriculum area. This is despite the nationwide shortage of subject specific specialists and the fact professional development budgets will not allow for the support of preservice and ongoing training. Being a teacher of Religious Education/Studies does not make you immune from criticism from parents who want a good Catholic education, but are perhaps not so keen on the time spent on the subject, be it Religious Education/Studies or the more senior Religious Education/Studies.

Since robust assessment has become part of Religious Education/Studies in Catholic schools there has been a great deal of discussion on the question whether Religious Education/Studies is the academic study of religion or the formation of personal faith? Perhaps it can be both.

Our curriculum, ‘Understanding Faith’, provides a convergence of the study of religion and the development of faith which will hopefully produce young men and women who are able to think more critically, are religiously literate and able to be more mindful contributors to our Church and society going forward. We must be educating the whole child and it is vital they leave our schools with the qualifications that will set them up for fulfilled life.

At the centre of our schools is faith formation. There is no doubt that faith formation takes place in the Catholic school but where it should primarily take place in the classroom or beyond is up for discussion. Whether that this is the primary role of Religious Studies/Education is the issue I will explore here.

It is a concern to hear some students disengaged in Religious Education/Studies and as a result have become disconnected from their faith. If we cannot teach faith beyond what’s perceived to be relevant and engaging, we do have a real problem. If we cannot make our faith interesting and relevant, at a time where are Church has never been so relevant, what hope is there for the future of our Church?

Religious Education/Studies is an endeavour in sharing faith and it is an intentional activity to develop students who are religiously literate and conversant. There seems to be a close connection between classroom Religious Education/Studies and catechesis. As a classroom teacher who observes that the Religious Education/Studies program has the potential to develop faith in students and it is most effective when it is grounded in a sharing of faith between teacher and student.

There are limits to the ways in which Religious Education/Studies can develop the faith of students. The curriculums capacity to communicate and develop faith of students is much less if it does not relate to the other parts of a student’s life experience. “Understanding Faith” sets out to witness and to teach the Catholic message and to develop in all students’ religious values, attitudes, knowledge and skills. The program does not depend on the faith of the student but it may contribute to faith formation.

It is important to acknowledge that in the Religious Education/Studies classroom aims to understand and appreciate the tradition of the Catholic Church. Complementary to and equally important to this is the experience of liturgy, prayer, retreat and participation in other forms evangelisation.

The “Understand Faith” Curriculum document has an instructive prominence and it recognises that one cannot become personally attuned a religion without first learning something about it. Learning and journey must be part of the student’s experience. Our curriculum links the classroom with the faith community which respects each individual’s faith journey, and the realities of the classroom. As an educator I believe the Catholic school should provide a comprehensive education in faith which will help young people become well informed about the Catholic traditions and its position on current issues. The role of Religious Studies is somewhat different. It does complement this but it is fundamentally an academic study of Religion. The Catholic faith is just one of these. Religious Studies is the study of a Religion from the outside, that is, not always with an emphasis on faith development.

In the Catholic tradition the term Catechesis has been commonly used to mean “Catholic Religious Education/Studies.” Catechesis seems to involve both theological knowledge as well as communication of faith vision. Religious Education/Studies or Catechesis links religious knowledge with faith. Faith is a personal relationship with God. We are called by God. It is a covenant relationship. God dwells among his people and his people live in his presence.

Catechesis cannot instil faith but only awaken, nourish and develop what is already there. Faith is concerned with developing a relationship with God. As teachers we walk beside students in their faith journey both challenging and nurturing them. Religious Educators do not transmit “faith” but would transmit particular interpretations or understandings of faith. Faith is a gift of grace and a personal response to Gods call it cannot be taught. As teachers we cannot force faith on our students through, coercion, indoctrination or manipulation. All we can do is to invite students to build their faith through instruction through example and experience. We cannot choose faith for students but can only give them the freedom to examine, question and reflect, and claim their personal belief.

Faith needs to be linked to everyday life and should not be seen as something isolated to going to Mass nor activities in class. Faith formation in the Catholic school is not just in the classroom, it would be naive to claim so. There needs to be evangelisation taking place throughout the school, at the parish level. The school can only reinforce what is taking place in the home. The Catholic school is concerned with integration of faith and life. It should be evident then that you cannot teach faith any more than you can teach love for a spouse. It has to be a lived experience creating an atmosphere in which students can develop their own faith each in his or her individual way.

During adolescence a young person’s main struggle is to achieve a personal identity or a positive sense of self and this is connected to the development of faith. Complications with faith tend to be part of a broader search for meaning in their lives and that search for positive self-worth. Faith is a dynamic fluid process. The development of faith at a personal level requires a mature sense of self and this occurs at different stages for each person. Watershed moments in this journey may take place outside of the four walls of a classroom.

Religious Education/Studies could be thought of as sharing ones faith with another person. Faith dictates lifestyle. It is a life style that is filled with both emotional and intellectual content.  Some school special character events such as social justice events, retreats and liturgies seek to develop and give a student an opportunity to express personal faith while the classroom curriculum is more concerned with delivering information although this still fosters faith development. The aim of the Religious Education/Studies curriculum is to create in student’s religious literacy, personal autonomy and the ability to be critical. These are all required in order for an individual to develop a mature adult faith.

As educators we have a role to make students faith a living conscious and active thing. Faith is a gift, a personal encounter or a response to Gods call. For this reason Religious Education/Studies should be carried out in an atmosphere that complements this. For this to happen only in the classroom is not an ideal. The whole faith process is much larger than what we do or what we teach, it wrapped in the ministry of God’s love and in the free and personal response that people make to that love. We need to create an atmosphere of warmth and relational trust, an environment suitable for listening to Gods call. We need to allow our students the freedom to search, to question and to express one’s own point of view. Faith needs to be intrinsic to our everyday life. Faith formation takes place not only but primarily outside the classroom. Students grow by being part of a faith community and the activities that complement this.

Our curriculum aims to religiously educate students so that they may grow and understand faith. Its effectiveness can only be judged by whether the students can demonstrate religious literacy and a sense of what religion contributes to the human condition. By applying critical thinking to religious issues in the school environment students will develop a mature faith and greater potential to effect change. I believe that our children will have faith if we have faith and are faithful. If we strive to keep our sense of community and keep our identity as a Catholic community then our children will stay with us and grow with us in faith and love. It is the job of us all of to encourage the spread of the Good News not just those teachers in the classroom.

Positive Learning Environments: Part Two

23 Sep

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I suppose the key to these is the key competencies of our national curriculum and ensuring we are getting it right in the classroom.

  1. Focus a good deal of your teaching on “learning how to learn” skill development. Read up on how to teach study skills, learning to learn skills, research skills, inquiry skills. Make sure that your students grow both in terms of content they learn and the “learning to learn” skills they need to develop in order to learn well in the future.
  2. Make “asking questions” central to your teaching and to your learning environment and school culture.
  3. Give students more choices and options – in the classroom.
  4. Use inquiry strategies, research skill building activities, interactive learning and projects as critical parts of teaching. Incorporate more interest based projects into your curriculum.
  5. Where possible, make learning experiences more “authentic”. Ask “how does this relate?” How can you provide students with a concrete understanding of their future options? Can you take field trips to different places of business? Colleges and universities? Bring in speakers?
  6. Create more ways to integrate learning across the curriculum and consider ways to redesign the curriculum. When redesigning or renewing the curriculum, examine whether curriculum materials or programs have a significant component built around developing curiosity, motivation, relevance and interest.

There is little doubt there are lots of challenges here but it up to us as teachers to challenge ourselves to create authentic learning environments.

Five Points for Curriculum Reflection: Part Two

11 Aug

Curriculum

As I have mentioned in an earlier post curriculum development has been on my mind as I have been looking at developing eLearning tools for the Religious Education Curriculum here in New Zealand. Here some more points that I think are important.

  1. Alignment

Curriculum Developers can spend so much time developing curriculum documents that they forget to take time to analyse alignment and have conversations with multiple groups.  “Poorly aligned curriculum results in our underestimating the effect of instruction on learning.” (Anderson, 2002, p. 260).

  1. Clarity

It must be clear across the school what is being taught. In Toward a Coherent Curriculum: The 1985 ASCD Yearbook, Stellar wrote, “The curriculum in numerous schools lacks clarity and, more important, coherence.  Students move from teacher to teacher and subject to subject along a curriculum continuum that may or may not exhibit planned articulation”

(p. v).

  1. Curriculum Development Is Requires Open Conversation

If you are asked to review curriculum or develop curriculum, then you should be careful to avoid bias.  What is good for your own child may not be good for every child.  Politics are unavoidable when it comes to curriculum development, but educators can improve the curriculum development process by seeking multiple perspectives. However this being said robust conversation about content and pedagogy is essential in a dynamic PLN.

  1. Be a Leader and Lead

Just lead. If you are leading the group lead them. It is not a title.  “A good leader has the ability to instil within his people confidence in himself.  A great leader has the ability to instil within his people confidence in themselves” (Maxwell, 1995, p. 55). 

  1. Student at the Centre

Despite all our ideas, discussions and reading of theory students must be at the centre. As curriculum is built one must ask? How will the student benefit? Is this course for them or me?

Do you have any suggestions? Perhaps there is a Part 3.

References:

Anderson, L.W. (2002). Curricular Alignment: A Re-Examination. Theory into Practice, 41, 225-260.

Maxwell, J.C. (1995). Developing the leaders around you. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Maxwell, J.C. (2008). Leadership gold: Lessons I’ve learned from a lifetime of leading. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Steller, A.W. (1985). Forward. In Beane, J.A. (Ed.), Toward a coherent curriculum. The 1985 ASCD Yearbook. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

Planning My Lessons

9 Mar

Planning the level of challenge of your lessons can be a difficult task.  It is important that knowing your group and where they are will help this.  My pieces about the famous learning plan have illustrated this. What you plan to do needs to be related to prior learning – which is why formative and summative assessment, and what you do with it, is so important.  For a while I thought I’d planned challenging lessons for all.  But that was the problem.  I rarely differentiated on an individual level and predominantly set the same task for all.  Challenge should apply to the learning, not merely the task.  And the learning needs to challenge all students.  Now this is a real skill and one that I have been honing for a while. I often organise prior learning collaboratively which my students love.

“Planning can be done in many ways, but the most powerful is when teachers work together to develop plans, develop common understandings of what is worth teaching, collaborate on understanding their beliefs of challenge and progress, and work together to evaluate the impact of their planning on student outcomes.”

Hattie 2012

Using colleagues to bounce ideas off of can be an excellent way of designing lessons.  There have been numerous times when I actively seek out colleagues and run ideas past them.  I know many departments set time aside to collaboratively plan larger schemes of work, but having a critical buddy to work with on individual lessons can be a great resource.

I will pay particular attention to the level of it in my lessons.  It’s important that I pitch it right.  Too easy and there is no reward.  Feedback has less effect and becomes low value.  Too hard and it can provide a feeling that achieving this goal is unobtainable. The only way I will know if the levels are correct is if I go back and check prior attainment and know my group before planning my lesson.

So why pay more attention to challenge this year more than before?  Well because of the various factors that it links to.  Memory and feedback being two in particular.  If we are to get the glutamate and dopamine present whilst learning and thus commit what we are learning to memory, we need to ensure that what work we set is challenging (so there is potential for a reward – achieving the goal) and actually achievable (to release the reward – chemicals).  If work is too easy and not challenging, these chemicals aren’t released as highly and won’t be committed to the long term memory (the aim of learning).

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